How to contribute without hurting your finances
If you’re Amazon Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, you can afford to slip $10 million into a super PAC, as was reported in September. If you’re just about anyone else interested in contributing to a political action committee or candidate, you’ll probably donate an amount with five or six less of zeros and still have to think about this decision.
More specifically, there are household budgets to change and contribution rules to review. And, with the midterm elections looming, there are more political causes that want your money than you can shake a checkbook.
Before donating, consider the following tips.
Make sure you can afford to donate
Figure out which “category” of your budget that donation will come from, says Craig Israelsen, executive-in-residence of Utah Valley University’s financial planning program. Some buckets are prohibited, such as those for housing payments or utilities. And drawing from retirement savings is “questionable” at best, he adds. (“Our retirement is on us – no one else is really responsible for it.”)
But the money “has to come from somewhere,” says Israelsen. So would you dip into your clothing or restaurant budget and offset a $100 contribution by, say, not going shopping or dining out for a month? Would you like to withdraw $300 from your travel funds and, in doing so, commit to driving to Mom’s house for Thanksgiving dinner rather than flying?
Pausing to think about what you would have to give up for this gift will help you rank its importance among other expenses. Maybe you decide to keep dinner out and skip the donation or donate less than expected. (More on the value of small donations later.)
Or maybe this reflection affirms that, yes, this contribution is important enough to make a sacrifice. (And if this exercise is a real headache, consider it your cue to build or review your budget.)
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Start with a small contribution
Figuring out what you would have to sacrifice for a donation is less painful when you start by giving, say, $10 instead of $100. It can be a weekend without Uber rather than a month without dining out.
And consider that your individual contribution will go further in a local campaign — for a city council member, say — than in a presidential or senatorial campaign that costs millions, says Michael Barber, a researcher at the University’s Center for Study. Brigham Young. Elections and Democracy and Assistant Professor of Political Science.
Wherever you choose to donate, “start small, then gather more information,” says Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, a research group that tracks money in American politics and operates OpenSecrets. org. Five or 10 dollars would probably be enough to get you on the campaign or organization’s mailing lists. “Use this information to make sure you agree with their message,” Krumholz says, and continue to collect information about the recipient.
If you’re still impressed with the candidate or organization, follow the budget routine and maybe contribute more. If you’ve lost interest, you may feel grateful to give $10, rather than $100 — or $10 million.
Find out about the rules and the recipient before donating
The decision of who to donate to is up to you, but either way, check the rules before you donate. For example, if you decide to donate to a federal candidate committee, party committee, or PAC, first visit the Federal Election Commission website. You’ll learn about contribution limits, as well as other considerations, such as the total amount you can donate before your name appears on a public FEC report. You will have to rely more on web searches for information on local and national campaigns.
If you’d rather give to an organization, such as a nonprofit that works in politics, check out sites like OpenSecrets.org or CharityNavigator.org. Among other information, these sites disclose the type of nonprofit organization, which determines whether or not your contributions will be tax deductible.
Note that – unfortunately for Bezos – you cannot deduct contributions to political candidates or campaign committees.
More from NerdWallet:
Needs vs. Wants: How to Distinguish and Budget for the Two
Budgeting: how to create a budget
How to maximize your online donation to charity
Laura McMullen is an editor at Nerd Wallet, a personal finance site. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @lauraemcmullen
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